Pause. Reflect. Think

Susan Stebbing’s little Pelican book on philosophy had a big aim: giving everybody tools to think clearly for themselves    There is an urgent need today for the citizens of a democracy to think well.’ These words, which could have been written yesterday, come from Thinking to Some Purpose, a popular book by the British philosopher Susan Stebbing, first published in 1939 in the Penguin ‘Pelican’ books series, with that familiar blue-and-white cover. This little book, which could easily be slipped into a pocket and read on the train, in a lunch hour, or at a bus stop, was pitched at the intelligent general reader. In Thinking to Some Purpose, Stebbing took on the task of showing the relevance of logic to ordinary life, and she did so with a sense of urgency, well aware of the gathering storm clouds over Europe.

Stebbing was a university lecturer and then professor in a philosophical world almost completely dominated by men. She began by publishing as L S Stebbing (‘Lizzie’ was her given first name, but she despised it, and was always known as ‘Susan’) because, one friend suggested, she disliked philosophical debates getting distorted by questions of gender or status. In 1933, Stebbing was the first woman in the United Kingdom to be appointed to a full professorship in philosophy – at Bedford College, where she spent much of her career. While this made national news at the time, Stebbing is now scarcely known outside specialist academic circles, and has accrued nothing like the almost-mythic aura that surrounds philosophical ‘greats’ such as Bertrand Russell or G E Moore (both of whom were her contemporaries). She is also less well known than other women philosophers who came to the fore in the postwar period, such as Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa FootIris Murdoch and Mary Midgley….

Lectures on Learning, Reading, Writing and Going Abroad and Staying Home (Simon Leys, 1996)

Albert Camus The Almond Trees

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